Henry Wagons : Expecting Company
With his alpha male personality, mellifluous voice and penchant for ironic narrative, Henry Wagons should never be short of company. Like German sociologist Max Weber’s ideal type, Wagons is blessed with that most precious of behavioural attributes, charisma. Give this man a guitar, a microphone and the opportunity to perform, and he’ll have the toughest of opponents skipping to his tune quicker than you can say Johnny Cash.
Wagons’ latest outing – notionally a solo effort, with his trustworthy backing band put out to the back paddock while Henry satisfies his current creative urge – is a mini-album featuring seven duets with the likes of Alison Mosshart (The Kills, Dead Weather), Patience Hodgson (The Grates), Sophia Brous, Gossling and Robert Forster (The Go-Betweens).
Recorded while Wagons was in mortal combat with fever and random physical trauma (apparently an exploding light bulb), Expecting Company? is a rambling dialectic ride through the colourful recesses of Wagons’ mind. The music is darker, more intense than the standard issue Wagons irony. On Unwelcome Company, Wagons channels Good Son-era Nick Cave hanging out at a Radio Birdman gig at the Bondi Lifesaver, trading vocal barbs with Mosshart’s too-cool-for-school punk chick shtick; as the maelstrom breaks, there’s debris all around, and only Wagons’ evil grin saves us from a fate worse than death. I’m In Love With Mary Magdalene takes a stroll down the back alleys of biblical contemplation; as Wagons walks in line with the spirit of Johnny Cash, Sophia Brous offers sanctuary, but there’s a sense it’s all too late.
With matters standing awkwardly on the precipice of despair, Wagons joins Canadian singer Jenn Grant on Give Things A Chance on a lazy stroll toward spiritual redemption; by the time Wagons slips off the beaten track and finds Robert Forster loitering in the corner of the bar with a weathered copy of the Beasts Of Bourbon’s The Axeman’s Jazz in I Still Can’t Find Her, things are likely decidedly dangerous. A Hangman’s Work Is Never Done finds Wagons swimming in the murky moral waters of Nick Cave’s Tupelo, contemplating the psychosis that lies just beneath the facade of human rationality; Patience Hodgson arrives to help out, but Wagons might never recover.
At that moment the black clouds clear, and Wagons and Gossling team up in Give Me A Kiss trading sweet country nothings like Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra hanging out in a Gippsland pub. Finally, there’s Wagons in solo mode, reprising Marylou from Rumble, Tumble and Shake, Wagons’ most recent record. There’s a vague hint of The Band’s Richard Manuel at his most vulnerable – is this the real Henry Wagons, stripped of the bravado and charisma? But Henry Wagons isn’t a passive objective of cheap pop-psycho analysis. He’s a charming, talented, spirited singer-songwriter for whom company is always welcome.
BY PATRICK EMERY
Best Track: I’m In Love With Mary Magdalene
If You Like These, You'll Like This: JOHNNY CASH, NICK CAVE, ELVIS
In A Word: Deep